The cover story of Sunday's New York Times Magazine pronounced the demise of the religious right in America. The ranks are demoralized, split, and liberal evangelicals are taking over with a new agenda for the environment and the poor. On the editorial page, the acerbic Frank Rich coordinated his column with the magazine, concluding, "Inauguration Day 2009 is at the very least Armageddon for the reigning ayatollahs of the American right."
Wow! Just three years ago the press touted conservative evangelicals as the most powerful voting block in America. What happened?
Nothing. The press is up to its old tricks. When I was in the White House, the press heralded me as Nixon's brilliant political strategist. Then within a year, once having built me up, I was called the "White House hatchet man" and a lot worse. The press loves to create monsters, build them up, and then take credit for slaying them. It sells papers.
The press's portrayal of the religious right was always a caricature. Take Jerry Falwell. They had fun printing unflattering pictures of him and playing up his extreme statements. Yet they paid no attention to the good things Jerry did, like reaching out to homosexuals and unwed mothers. And the same thing applies to Jim Dobson. He is upbraided for his political statements, but his heroic defense of the family is ignored.
And where was the press in 1999 when Bill Bennett and I started a campaign against sexual trafficking? Or when I and others, like Franklin Graham, urged President Bush to fight against AIDS in Africa? And how about the legislation to stop prison rape or enact prisoner reentry legislation? The media yawns.
Now they say we are dying, but the agenda has not changed one lick in the last 15 years. All evangelicals—Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, Jim Dobson, Jim Wallis, Ron Sider—all of us, right and left, in our own way, are battling for traditional values, defending life, and pursuing justice and caring for the poor. We do it in the name of God, which is what sets the media's teeth on edge. And sure, abortion has been out front—and has been since the first century—because it goes to the whole dignity of human life. It's what drives me to go into the prisons and care about prisoners.
What is really happening here is that the liberal media, aided by liberal politicians, is desperately anxious to marginalize the evangelical movement and to try to drive a wedge between us and get us fighting. So, the most important thing, right now, is for serious evangelicals of all political interests to join together to proclaim the Good News, protect the family, build the Church, help the suffering, and defend the truth—all the while avoiding, as I have written for years, becoming a special interest group or placing ourselves in the hip pocket of one political party.
I am sorry to spoil the fun of the New York Times, but Inauguration in 2009 will not be Armageddon for the religious right or religious left or evangelicals, unless we fight each other, which is what the press really wants. It makes the best copy.
But if we reject their prophecy, a biased caricature, we will prove the New York Times wrong. All we are called to do is to stick to our job and work together.
No matter who wins or loses the election, I am sorry to tell you, Mr. Rich, the kingdom of God will continue to reign stronger than ever on Inauguration morning.
From BreakPoint®, October 30, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship